Thailand: Judicial harassment of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri and Mr. Nan Win

27/11/2018
Urgent Appeal

THA 005 / 1118 / OBS 137
Judicial harassment
Thailand
November 27, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Thailand.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, a human rights consultant and former Thailand human rights specialist with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Fortify Rights [1], and Mr. Nan Win, a migrant worker from Myanmar, for denouncing labour rights violations by a Thai company against migrant workers.

According to the information received, on October 12, 2018, the Thai company Thammakaset Co. Ltd., which operated chicken farms in Lopburi Province, filed a defamation complaint at the Bangkok Criminal Court against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri. The complaint relates to three comments Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri made on Twitter on October 4, 2017, about a short video clip related to previous defamation complaints brought by Thammakaset against 14 of its former workers from Myanmar. In this 107-second video clip, published by Fortify Rights on October 4, 2017, the Burmese migrant workers, including Mr. Nan Win, describe how the company filed criminal defamation complaints against them after the workers reported labour rights violations to the authorities. Violations included being paid less than the minimum wage, failure to pay overtime wages, and confiscation of their identity documents, including passports. The video clip called on the Thai authorities to drop criminal defamation charges against the 14 Burmese migrant workers and to abolish criminal defamation laws in Thailand.

If convicted, Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri faces up to six years in prison and/or a fine of up to 600,000 Thai Baht (around 16,000 EUR) under Articles 326 (‘defamation’) and 328 (‘libel’) of the Criminal Code.

On October 8, 2018, Thammakaset also filed a criminal defamation complaint against Mr. Nan Win, based on two interviews he provided to Fortify Rights. Mr. Nan Win gave his testimony at a Fortify Rights press conference on human rights defenders in Southeast Asia, which was held on October 6, 2017 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok, and another testimony for Fortify Rights’ short video clip - the same video clip the company used to prosecute Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri. The company alleged that his testimonies, which contained details of alleged labour rights abuses while he was working at the Thammakaset farm, damages the company’s reputation. If convicted, Mr. Nan Win faces up to four years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 400,000 Thai Baht (around 10,600 EUR) under Articles 326 and 328 of the Criminal Code.

The Bangkok Criminal Court will hold the preliminary hearings for the cases of Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri and Mr. Nan Win on December 3, 2018.

On October 26, 2018, Thammakaset Co.Ltd also filed a separate civil defamation complaint against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri with the Civil Court in Bangkok, demanding 5,000,000 Thai Baht (around 133,000 EUR) in compensation for alleged damage to the company’s reputation. The complaint is related to the same above-mentioned three Twitter comments, and demands that Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri publishes an apology to the company in four local newspapers and on her Twitter account for a minimum of 30 days and covers all legal costs. The Civil Court in Bangkok has scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing for this case on December 24, 2018.

The Observatory condemns the judicial harassment against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri and Mr. Nan Win, as well as Thammakaset’s recurrent attempts to harass human rights defenders and migrant workers denouncing labour rights violations, and inhibit their legitimate activities and the exercise of their right to freedom of expression (see background information).

The Observatory urges the Thai authorities to dismiss the above-mentioned complaints and to take pro-active steps to prevent further similar complaints, such as by decriminalizing defamation and requiring companies in Thailand to uphold their human rights obligations under Thai law and their responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Background information:

On October 6, 2016, Thammakaset brought criminal defamation and other charges - under Articles 137 and 326 of the Criminal Code - against the above-mentioned 14 migrant workers from Myanmar after the workers submitted the complaint to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, alleging that the company had committed labour rights violations. On July 11, 2018, the Don Mueang Magistrate Court in Bangkok found that the 14 migrant workers were not guilty of criminal defamation and that their allegations of labour rights violations against the company were reasonable and well-founded.

On November 4, 2016, Thammakaset also filed complaints for criminal defamation and violations of the Computer Crimes Act against Mr. Andy Hall, a British labour rights defender, for his social media posts that highlighted the 14 migrant workers’ case. The complaint against Andy Hall is still pending at the Bangkok South Criminal Court[ 2].

In September 2017, the Appeal Court upheld an order issued by the Department of Labour Protection and Welfare in Lopburi Province in August 2016, which required Thammakaset to pay 1.7 million Thai Baht (around 45,200 EUR) in compensation to the 14 workers for violations of Thailand’s Labour Protection Act.

In October 2017, Thammakaset brought further theft charges against Ms. Ye Ye and Mr. Soe Yong, two of the 14 migrant workers and Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai, a labour rights activist and Thailand coordinator with the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a civil-society organization promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers. The charges stemmed from the fact that they submitted their employment timecards, which the company alleged they had “stolen”, to the labour inspector officer as evidence of alleged labour rights violations.

On September 3, 2018, the Lopburi Provincial Court dismissed the merit of the complaint regarding the alleged theft of timecards by the two migrant workers and Ms. Suthasinee Kaewleklai.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Thailand asking them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Sutharee Wannasiri, Mr. Nan Win and all human rights defenders in Thailand;

ii. Ensure in all circumstances that human rights defenders in Thailand are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of expression as required by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and abolish criminal defamation laws;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its Articles 1, and 12;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Thailand.

Addresses:

· Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 282 5131
· Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 643 5320; Email: minister@mfa.go.th
· Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, Minister of Justice of Thailand, Fax: +66 (0) 2 953 0503
· Pol Gen Chaktip Chaijinda, Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police, Fax: +66 (0) 2 251 5956 / +66 (0) 2 251 8702
· Mr. Wat Tingsamit, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Email: help@nhrc.or.th
· H.E. Mr. Thani Thongphakdi, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 715 10 00 / 10 02; Email: mission.thailand@ties.itu.int
· Embassy of Thailand in Brussels, Belgium, Fax: +32 2 648 30 66; Email: thaibxl@pophost.eunet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Thailand in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, November 27, 2018

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29

[1] Fortify Rights is an international NGO that works to prevent and remedy human rights violations, investigate abuses, and provide technical support to human rights defenders.
[2] For more information see Observatory Urgent Appeal THA 003 / 0815 / OBS 067.4, published on March 28, 2018.

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